by Gareth Rose
A LEADING think tank has called for policing to be devolved into 32 forces – one for each local authority in Scotland – as a way of delivering more “effective and accountable” crime fighting.
Reform Scotland has accused the Scottish Government of moving in the wrong direction as it looks to merge to one, three or four forces.
However, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill told the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) conference in Dunblane that the case for a single force had “strengthened”, while senior police figures warned a move to 32 forces would make no “operational or financial sense”.
Writing in The Scotsman today, Alison Payne, one of the Reform Scotland report authors, said: “Just as there are different crime problems facing the different police forces in Scotland, there are different crime problems facing different areas within forces.
“As a result, it is important that enough freedom is given to area commanders to try out different policing methods.
“Imposing a one-size-fits-all structure from the centre will stifle that innovation.”
The report recommends complex national and international crime should still fall to Scotland-wide agencies such as the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency and the Counter-Terrorism Unit.
However, Gordon Meldrum, the director general of the SCDEA, has backed a single force and said his organisation should be merged within it.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government, which has consulted on how many forces Scotland should have, is awaiting the Christie Commission report, which could recommend a reduction in the number of local authorities.
Advocates of a single force believe local accountability should be at the heart of it, and that could be achieved by making divisional commanders answerable to councils in their areas.
Chief Constable Stephen House, of Strathclyde, said: “The report talks about having local officers working with their local authority to deliver the type of policing that people want and need. I absolutely agree with this.
“I believe that having a single, national force will allow us to manage the key strategies nationally but deliver the service that people want locally.
“Local commanders should be making the decisions that affect their communities, and a commissioner should be in charge of key issues such as strategy, budgets and how to tackle the issues that affect the whole country. This is exactly what a single national force would achieve. We don’t need a multitude of chief constables across the country.”
Chief Constable Justine Curran, of Tayside Police, added: “If you go to 32 forces they could not possibly have the capacity to deal with everything from local to international. They would be so small you would have to have a federal model at a higher level.
Chief Superintendent David O’Connor, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “We’ve consistently said that the status quo of eight forces is not sustainable and therefore to move to 32 makes no operational or financial sense.”
However, Cllr Barbara Grant, the Convention on Scottish Local Authorities\’ spokeswoman for community safety, said: “Reform Scotland highlight many of my concerns in assuming that a single, centralised service is the only realistic way forward.
“Before we dismantle a policing system that has delivered a 30-year low in crime, we must consider how best we maintain and enhance accountability to our local communities and how we negate the potential dangers of one chief constable being accountable to one justice minister.”
However, at the Acpos annual conference, Mr MacAskill said: “I’ve said before there’s a very strong case for a single force and if anything that case has strengthened.”
Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson, who has been in charge of looking at how force mergers would work from a policing perspective, also backed a single force.
A Scottish Government spokesman said no decision has been taken on reform.